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Lewis Morris / Apr. 14, 2020

Why Wasn't NYC's Ventilator Stockpile Replenished?

Years of failure to prepare cost New York lives, and Democrat leaders are responsible.

New York City has been hit hard by the China Virus. Images of an empty Times Square and barren streets are unsettling and sad enough. Even more unsettling is the human toll that the virus has taken on this great metropolis. Virus deaths in New York City account for approximately one-third of the U.S. death toll to this point, and hundreds more die each day.

This outbreak has stretched medical resources to the breaking point and left the city scrambling for ventilators, masks, and other vital equipment. Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, frequently shout out their requests for assistance and have cast a significant amount of blame at the federal government for not doing enough. Confusingly, Cuomo also praises President Donald Trump for his responsiveness.

There is a more pressing question than whether the federal government could be doing more for New York City: Why is it that the nation’s largest city, in one of the nation’s largest states, was caught so unprepared? ProPublica recently published a detailed account of how New York’s elected leaders completely and repeatedly dropped the ball on disaster preparedness.

Since 9/11, America’s cities have been forced to reckon with planning for unthinkable scenarios and how to manage precious first response and medical resources in such events. In 2006, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered development of an action plan in the event of a pandemic in New York City. With major viral outbreaks in Asia becoming common news, it was not a question of if the U.S. would bet hit, but when.

The plan noted that in a major outbreak, New York would not be able to count on the Strategic National Stockpile for medical supplies; it needed to build its own reserves. As emergency management official Nicholas Cagliuso presciently said a few years later, “If a resource is not available by foot, it does not exist.”

The 2006 plan modeled a viral outbreak along the lines of the 1918 Spanish flu and determined that the city lacked thousands of ventilators needed to combat the emergency. The order went out to purchase the required thousands of ventilators. But only 500 were purchased, and the need and desire to buy more soon evaporated. Bloomberg and everyone else moved on to other things.

Later outbreaks like the avian flu and H1N1 reminded New York City and state officials of how underprepared they were, but when the crises passed without much local impact, so too did interest in preparing for the next emergency. Instead, the city and state governments chose to spend their money on other things, like Gov. Cuomo’s Buffalo solar-panel factory that never materialized, plus various gifts to New York City teachers’ unions and perks to other Democrat political constituencies.

Even the meager supply of NYC ventilators were auctioned off due to aging and manufacturers ending service support. That’s understandable, but they were not replaced, and New York hospitals, many suffering from ObamaCare-caused financial difficulties, could only focus on immediate need, not long-term planning. As recently as 2015, Cuomo had the opportunity to purchase 16,000 ventilators, but passed on it due to a supposed lack of funds.

Cuomo’s response at the time was to put together a task force to develop a rationing plan for the ventilators that the state did own. Medical services would triage the afflicted and provide services based on a sliding scale of survivability. In the parlance of the ObamaCare debate, this means the death panels leftist supporters of single-payer healthcare tell us would never exist.

It was not a lack of money that caused New York City and the state to be so embarrassingly short of emergency supplies like ventilators and medical masks when the China Virus hit. Both governments have a long and notorious history of passing huge budgets and inventing new methods of taxation to make up for shortfalls. They could have purchased the needed equipment. Instead, they chose to ignore a potential emergency while keeping their political machine running and their leftist allies happy.

While our hearts go out to the people of New York City, the next time they go to the polls, they should consider just who the candidates really are, and whether they truly have the public interest in mind.

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